Plastic surgery patients have carried a new class of superbugs resistant to almost all antibiotics from South Asia to Britain and they could spread worldwide, researchers reported Wednesday.
Many hospital infections that were already difficult to treat have become even more impervious to drugs thanks to a recently discovered gene that can jump across different species of bacteria.
This so-called NDM-1 gene was first identified last year by Cardiff University's Timothy Walsh in two types of bacteria -- Klebsiella pneumoniae and Escherichia coli -- in a Swedish patient admitted to hospital in India.
Worryingly, the new NDM-1 bacteria are resistant even to carbapenems, a group of antibiotics often reserved as a last resort for emergency treatment for multi-drug resistant bugs.
In the new study, led by Walsh and Madras University's Karthikeyan Kumarasamy, researchers set out to determine how common the NDM-1 producing bacteria were in South Asia and Britain, where several cases had turned up.
Checking hospital patients with suspect symptoms, they found 44 cases -- 1.5 percent of those screened -- in Chennai, and 26 (eight percent) in Haryana, both in India.
They likewise found the superbug in Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well 37 cases in Britain, where several patients had recently travelled to India or Pakistan for cosmetic surgery.
"India also provides cosmetic surgery for other Europeans and Americans, and it is likely that NDM-1 will spread worldwide," said the study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet.